Alex Stephenson interviews the Labour MP and UCL Alumni.
Alison McGovern, born in Merseyside in 1980, became MP for Wirral South in 2010. The first class of MPs since the Blair/Brown years, McGovern has yet to sit on the Government benches, however garnered attention during Corbyn’s tenure by being appointed chair of ‘Progress’, a political movement within the Labour party closely aligned with the New Labour vision. She resigned from her position at Progress in protest at Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell describing Progress as having ‘a hard right agenda’. Despite this, McGovern believes the ‘NHS in crisis’, the dire state of education funding and the catastrophe of a hard Brexit have united a Labour party against the Conservative vision for the UK. Ahead of a talk she gave to UCL, I interviewed her to get her thoughts on her time at UCL, Brexit and the current state of the Labour Party.
As a UCL alumni, what experiences did you have that equipped you for being a female MP in Parliament?
Alison McGovern: ‘I loved being at UCL, I had an instinctive connection. Philosophy is a subject dominated by men, not dissimilar to politics and parliament, but there was Lucy O’Brien and others who were incredible women to look up to. I really enjoyed being there, i was not only made to feel welcome but also treated with robust intellectual respect. People challenged each others arguments for the most part logically, which is quite different to politics.
As a student, and also as an MP, you’ve had the opportunity to go back to your constituency and also live in London, which puts you in a brilliant position to see ‘regional disparity’. If you live in London the jobs you do, your wages, the people you meet, the food in supermarkets are different – do you think regional disparity is getting worse and does this pose a threat to our political systems?
AM: In 1999, when i moved from Merseyside to London, the cultural divide was more pronounced. In the period I was at university, in 1999, things were changing quite rapidly, culminating the Liverpool being the capital of culture in 2008. However Brexit risks undoing all of that.
Considering Brexit, you’ve been very clear about your desire to stay in the Single Market – might this not be viewed by people who supported leave as we are not actually doing Brexit?
AM: People have got grievances that led them to voting leave, people thought they were being offered money for the NHS and investment in towns, and I understand that. We should deliver on the grievances people have, but we can’t do that without the tax revenues from the single market.
You’ve talked about listening to people, but doesn’t the data suggest people are unhappy with the status quo on immigration, and that’s why they voted leave – if we stay in the SM we can’t control that, and thus we’re not listening to what they wanted?
AM: On immigration, I think that if people have got security concerns I would agree with them. If people want to cut immigration to raise wages I just don’t think that will work. There’s no evidence to show that we have a drop in immigration we’ll be able to afford the wages people want and need. I can’t say to people that would be the right thing to do. Of course, people in UKIP want to blame it all on immigration but that doesn’t mean they’re right on it.
From your perspective from within Westminster, do you think all the animosity within the party has been put to bed? Would you approach a Corbyn-led government with certainty or do you think there needs to be more soul searching?
AM: The more the Tories are in a mess over Brexit the worse that could be for our country and I think that potentially that focuses the mind in quite a healthy way. I think everyone was uncertain because of the snap election and I don’t mind admitting that I was really uncertain… I was kind of sceptical that if we went out and did rallies whether it would have the positive response it did have. And it did have a really positive response – people got really good feedback from the public, we knocked on doors, people heard our message, that just can only really be a good thing.
So your skepticism has been assuaged then?
AM: Yeah, look, when you’re faced with a crisis in the NHS, that focuses your mind, in the general election people were telling me stories of having to take paper into their child’s school because of funding, that certainly focuses the mind, I just try and do my bit as a labour person. The idea that in politics people are just constantly thinking about scraps of the past is a bit of an error – we all have a clear job to do.
If you could implement any three policies tomorrow what would they be?
AM: Britain in the Single Market, end child poverty within a generation, and, a little one that’s not entirely serious; every child should learn a musical instrument.
On Brexit, McGovern might not share Corbyn’s Napoleonite strategy (‘never interrupt your enemy when they are making a mistake’) but her voice remains an important one when representing a significant proportion of the public. On the PLP, whilst McGovern’s lack of mention of the Labour Party leadership, or lukewarm endorsement of the healed rifts within the party, might not align her with the more fervent Labour members, she seemed to me wholly committed to her constituents and her values.